22 October 2023

Subjects: National Fire Ant Eradication Program, Bill Hayden, Tax Avoidance Taskforce, inflation figures, tripling of bulk billing incentive, Medicare, Prime Minister Albanese’s visits to the US and China, wine exports to China, Hamas-Israel conflict.

Press conference, Logan, Queensland

Joint press conference with:

The Hon Senator Murray Watt
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Minister for Emergency Management

Wayne Swan
ALP National President

The Hon Mark Furner
Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries
Minister for Rural Communities

Subjects: National Fire Ant Eradication Program, Bill Hayden, Tax Avoidance Taskforce, inflation figures, tripling of bulk billing incentive, Medicare, Prime Minister Albanese’s visits to the US and China, wine exports to China, Hamas-Israel conflict


Thanks for coming out to the Berrinba Wetlands. This is a beautiful part of our local community but it's also the epicentre of our efforts to combat fire ants and we'll say more about that in a moment. I'm joined here by a few Northsiders who've made the trek here to the best part of southeast Queensland, to talk about the wonderful man Bill Hayden and to make an announcement about fire ants. But also, there's a number of other issues of the day that we need to cover off on. So you're going to hear from me, then Wayne, then Murray, then Mark, and then I'll cover off on some other issues, and then obviously happy to take your questions after that.

Bill Hayden was humble and grounded, responsible and respected, a wonderful Queenslander and a fine Australian. Bill Hayden was like Wayne and like me – he was the Treasurer of Australia – but really, the biggest impact he made on this country was in the areas of social security, also foreign affairs, and of course, he was the governor-general. We wouldn't have Medicare without Medibank, and that means we wouldn't have it without Bill. He made great strides on the global stage as the foreign minister in the Hawke Government as well. Now it's tempting to see Bill Hayden as the transitional figure only between Whitlam and Hawke, but he was transformational as well. As I said, Medibank, looking after single mums, making big strides on the world stage as well. He was one of the more substantial figures – not just Labor figures – of the modern political history of this country. We are especially proud of Bill Hayden as a Queenslander. He was doing all of this work when federal Queensland MPs weren't exactly thick on the ground and he was a voice for Queensland but making a massive national contribution – so we honour him. The golden era of reform, the 80s and 90s might not have happened were it not for the work that Bill Hayden did. Bill Hayden was the personification of Labor at its best, that combination of responsible economic management and economic reform at the same time. A lot of people are grieving the loss of Bill Hayden, not least of which Dallas and the family, to whom we send our love and our support. Bill Hayden made an incredible mark on this country. His contribution will never be forgotten. And as someone who worked closely with him and for him, and now as Labor's National President, we're going to hear from Wayne Swan.


Thanks, Jim. That's a fine tribute to Bill. Bill proved that a political life is an honourable life, and an honourable political life can change a country. And if we look at what Bill did, as Jim said, in economic policy, it was the groundwork that he laid along with others, particularly Paul Keating, to drive the economy in Australia over the last 25 years, to make it one of the most productive, and one of the most significant economies in the world – so much so, we have a seat now, at the G20. Bill inspired so many people to join the Labor movement following the defeat of the Whitlam Government, and it was his commitment and tenacity that took Labor through a very difficult period. And he gave us a modern economic framework for modern times, as Jim said before, but he has done so much more. Not only the father of Medicare, but so much reform going right back to the Whitlam Government in terms of single parents benefit, for example, and many other initiatives. So, it's a big loss for the family, Dallas and the kids, a huge loss to our local community as he carried the flag in Queensland almost on his own for many years, but a loss for the country. And in acknowledging that loss, what we also acknowledge is the enormous legacy that he has left us all, and Australians living in this century are going to be the beneficiaries of the reforms that were driven by Bill Hayden in the last century. So it's a privilege to say a few words about that today. Thank you.


Thanks very much Wayne, it's a pleasure to have you join us here in your capacity as ALP National President. And can I join with both Jim and Wayne, in expressing my condolences to Bill Hayden's family and friends. Bill was a great Queenslander and a great Australian. And growing up in a Labor-voting house side on the southside of Brisbane before I became a Northsider, our entire family were big fans of Bill Hayden and we really do mourn his loss today.

The other reason we're here today, of course though, is that right here in Berrinba Wetlands, we are in ground zero when it comes to the fight against fire ants here in Queensland. And it's a pleasure to be joined by Jim as the Treasurer and Mark Furner – my good mate, the Queensland Agriculture Minister – in this combined fight between the Federal Government and all state and territory governments. Wayne was just reminding us that this fight against fire ants has actually been going on for a very long time, in fact when he was the federal treasurer providing funding for it. But I'm pleased to say today, Wayne, that what we're announcing today is the biggest ever federal investment in the fight against fire ants that the country has ever seen. Due to the good work of the Queensland Government who've been leading this program over the last 10 or so years, with joint funding from the federal and state and territory governments, we have been able to contain the spread of red imported fire ants, but we need to do more. And that's what we're announcing today, is an extra federal investment of around $268 million, in addition to the $28 million of existing funding. So what that means is that over the next four years, the Federal Government will be contributing nearly $300 million in this fight against fire ants, to be matched by the states and territories. As I say, the Queensland Government has done a terrific job so far in trying to contain the spread – and that's not to say that there haven't been new outbreaks picked up from time to time but we know that we need to do more, if we don't just want to contain the spread but if we want to eradicate it. And this announcement over the next four years will go a long way to further containment and control of the spread of fire ants, and will pave the way to eradication of this terrible pest in time for the 2032 Olympics here in Brisbane. This, of course, is the latest effort from the Albanese Government to strengthen Australia's biosecurity. And I thank Jim for his willingness to fund serious federal investments in tackling this very serious pest, but also for the investment that we've made since coming to power. As a result of those investments, we've been able to keep Australia free of Foot and Mouth Disease, Lumpy Skin Disease. We've finally delivered sustainable biosecurity funding for our country well into the future and that's all about making sure that we keep our agriculture sector safe, our environment safe. And this announcement that we're making today is another example of that. I'll hand over to Mark Furner now to give you a little bit more about what's going on with this program in Queensland.


Thanks, Murray. I'll also echo the words of both Jim, Wayne and Murray in respect to our condolences extended to Bill and his family and friends around him. I remember reading his book, and he was a humble person growing up as a policeman in Queensland, and naturally having an appreciation and a communication with the communities that he worked in. So it's a great loss to – not only Australia – but as a Queenslander.

It's great to be here today with Jim, Murray and Wayne, and as fellow Queenslanders it's extremely important that we back in this investment. And I'm really excited and privileged that the Federal Government, the Albanese Government, has put forward $268 million invested in this program. The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program is on track of eliminating this super pest. Be under no illusions, this is a significant pest and a threat to the nation but we're on top of it. Had we not taken the actions we've taken previously, it has been modelled that this pest would have spread as far north as Bowen, as far west as Longreach, and as far south as Canberra. So the steps we're taking today with this investment will add, not only that funding to supply 1,400 tonnes of bait each year, but will also add and complement to the staff here by adding 350 additional workers to the program. We'll see the expansion of capabilities like drone equipment, we'll see the satellites site down at the Gold Coast open up, so we're on track of eradicating this pest and we won't stop until that's done. And I thank Murray, I thank the Albanese Government, particularly Jim the Treasurer, who understands the importance of this pest and this area and measures we will take in eradicating this pest.


There are a lot of great things that have come out of South America but this challenge with fire ants is not one of them. They are nasty little buggers and we need to do everything we can – working closely with the state government and local councils – to make sure that we contain and then eradicate them. Fire ants aren't always front of mind, but they're front of mind if they bite you or they bite your kids, or your dog or your cattle. That's why we need to get on top of it. It's also a huge economic challenge. We are at risk of losing more than a billion dollars-worth of value from our economy, if we don't get on top of this fire ant challenge. These fire ants, they can bite your kids or your pets or your livestock, and they can also get into your electrical equipment, into the aircon, into light fittings and fuse boxes. And this, as Mark and Murray have said, this is really the epicentre of this challenge that we've got with fire ants. And so we are enthusiastically investing these hundreds of millions of dollars, matched by the states and territories, to get on top of this challenge – to get on top of this challenge on behalf of the people of Logan City and the surrounding areas, southeast Queensland and beyond, to get on top of this challenge because of the economic consequences if we don't. So, I pay tribute to Murray and to Mark, in tight budgets we have found room to make this important investment. We do so in the interests of local people but also in the economy more broadly. It's a really important investment. I'm going to cover two other issues and then I've got a couple of requests from the Canberra gallery by text as well.

First of all, I wanted to talk about the multinational tax crackdown that you see in the papers today. We are incredibly pleased to see that we are cracking down on multinational tax avoidance and we're seeing the fruits of that with billions of dollars in extra taxes collected from multinational corporations as part of our Tax Avoidance Taskforce. Now, the Tax Avoidance Taskforce has been a feature for some time in our budget but we're seeing something like three times the benefit of that work and that's a very good thing. Every dollar that multinational corporations avoid paying means that ordinary people in middle Australia have to carry the can. Cracking down on multinational tax avoidance also means that we can fund our multibillion-dollar cost-of-living package. The Albanese Government's highest priority is rolling out billions of dollars of support for people under cost-of-living pressure and this multinational tax crackdown means that we can fund our efforts – whether it's bulk billing, or cheaper childcare or electricity bill relief, increasing rent assistance – all of the ways that we're trying to take some of the edge off these cost-of-living pressures in our economy without adding to inflation. Some of that is funded by our efforts here, when it comes to multinational tax avoidance. We're seeing more than $6 billion collected in the financial year just finished and that is a very good thing because it helps us fund our other priorities and it makes sure that the tax system is that little bit fairer in the interests of ordinary people in ordinary communities like this one and right around Australia.

We've also got some inflation figures coming out in the week ahead. We expect the upward pressure on global oil prices and petrol prices at the bowser to play a bigger role in the inflation figures that we will get in the middle of the week to come. Our inflation challenge has been with us since before the election. Inflation has moderated since that high peak, the quarterly peak before the election and the annual peak last Christmas. We'd like it to moderate faster, inflation will be higher than we'd like for longer than we'd like that is the truth of it. It's moderated from that high peak last year. But we expect petrol prices as a consequence of what the suppliers have been doing the last few  months to put additional upward pressure on inflation. We expect to see that in one way or another in Wednesday's CPI figures. Obviously, people are under the pump right around Australia, whether it is rent or groceries or electricity, or this increase in global oil prices. Our job as the Government – a job that we take responsibility for – is to roll out those billions of dollars in cost-of-living help for people who are doing it tough. We understand and acknowledge that people are under extreme cost-of-living pressure right now and that's why we're doing what we can, responsibly to provide some help where we can, but we expect global oil and petrol to be a bigger feature of the CPI inflation figures released in the week to come. And obviously, events in the Middle East risk putting further upward pressure on global oil prices when people can least afford it.


I guess most of my questioning today is in regards to the cost of GP appointments. Are you able just to explain what some of those changes are and what Australians can expect in regards to the cost of going to the doctor?


We understand that one of the cost-of-living pressures that people face right now is out-of-pocket health costs. That's why we have made medicines cheaper, not just with 60-day prescriptions, but also getting the co-payment down from $42.50 to $30. Out-of-pocket health costs are a big part of the cost-of-living pressures people are facing. So we're making medicines cheaper but we're also investing billions of dollars in strengthening Medicare and bulk billing in particular. In the tight budget that we handed down in May, we still found billions of dollars to invest in Medicare and in bulk billing. And some of those changes will come into effect at the beginning of November. So less than a couple of weeks away, we understand that people are under pressure, and that part of that pressure is out-of-pocket health costs and that's why we are investing billions of dollars in trying to take some of the sting out of those out-of-pocket health costs, including by investing in Medicare and bulk billing and the changes in some of those areas will come through on the first of November.


I think the Medicare and bulk billing announcement is welcome news, especially for those vulnerable groups who will qualify but for many Australians they won't qualify for those benefits, and the AMA is suggesting GP appointments of around $100. Do you think $100 is affordable for the average Australian?


For a lot of people $100 will be too steep and that's why we're investing billions of dollars in making it easier for people to see a bulk-billing doctor. Millions of Australians will benefit from our efforts to strengthen Medicare and to invest in bulk billing: concession cardholders, kids under 16, right through middle Australia, people will see the benefits of our efforts to invest in Medicare. Now we were talking about Bill Hayden a moment ago. Bill Hayden created Medibank, the precursor to Medicare. We can't be complacent about the future of Medicare, of Bill's creation. Medicare has been an important feature of our country for a long time now, but it requires our constant attention and our investment. And I'm really proud as a Labor Treasurer, and in our Labor Government that we have found billions of dollars to invest in this challenge, so that people aren't putting off visits to the doctor, people aren't driving around for hours with sick kids in the back, trying to find a doctor who will bulk bill. That's why we're tripling the bulk billing incentive. That's why we're making medicines cheaper. It's why we're investing billions of dollars to take some of the sting out of out-of-pocket health costs.


I guess there will still be many Australians who will have to pay, they won't qualify for those benefits. So I guess in that instance, there's been concerns raised that it might result in more people turning up to ED because they simply can't afford to go to their GP. I guess how is your government going to tackle that issue if that is the case?


There is a real risk that when we don't invest in Medicare, like our predecessors didn't invest sufficiently in Medicare, that people show up to emergency departments and that puts extra pressure on the staff in our EDs. And one of the motivations for the billions of dollars that we're investing in Medicare, is to take some of the pressure off emergency departments. It's also why we're investing in urgent care clinics. It's also part of our motivation for cheaper medicine, particularly the 60-day prescriptions so that people don't have to go back each month to get a new prescription. Now, we are addressing this challenge on a number of fronts. We understand the pressures that people are under. When you've got tight budgets like we do, you need to begin where you think you can have the most impact: cheaper medicines, urgent care clinics, taking the pressure on hospitals, strengthening Medicare and tripling the bulk billing incentive.

I've got a couple of issues that the Canberra bureau wanted me to cover off on. First of all, when it comes to some foreign policy issues, and I note that – as I understand it, Penny Wong and Don Farrell will be up later today. And so let me just make a few brief remarks in the interim about some of the foreign policy issues. First of all, the Prime Minister's trip to the United States. The global economic environment is unpredictable right now, and there couldn't be a more important time for the Prime Minister of Australia to engage with the President of the United States. The world is a dangerous place right now. We've got the slowdown in China, we've got a war in Europe, escalating conflict in the Middle East. There couldn't be a more important time for Anthony Albanese to sit down with President Biden to discuss issues of mutual interest. This is a really, really important opportunity. We can't let this opportunity go begging. There are a number of important issues to discuss with American friends and that's why Prime Minister Albanese's discussions with President Biden will be all about.

The other issue I wanted to touch on was the announcement this morning, or the two announcements this morning. First of all, about wine tariffs, and secondly, about the Prime Minister's engagement with President Xi of China. We welcome enthusiastically the decision of the Chinese administration to take off these restrictions on wine. These restrictions should never have been put on place in the first place. China is a huge market for Australian winemakers, we welcome the decision that has been taken. This is part of our efforts to stabilise the relationship between Australia and China, and the Prime Minister's visit should be seen in the same light. Now we're realistic and clear eyed about the challenges and complexities in our region and in our relationship with China. But we believe the Prime Minister and all of the Cabinet believes that you get more done if you engage in good faith. That's what the Prime Minister's visit to Beijing and Shanghai will be all about, engaging with President Xi on matters of mutual interest. We are pleased to see the fruits of some of that engagement, we're pleased to see much of that payoff, but this is complex relationship. We do much better if we engage in good faith and that's what the Prime Minister's visit will be all about.

Finally, on Israel and Gaza and the Middle East. First of all, the economic consequences and then some broader matters. Obviously, when a sensitive region like the Middle East is seeing conflict like we are seeing right now, the global economy views that as a potential risk. This is an oil producing region, even though neither Israel nor the Palestinians nor the Lebanese produce oil themselves. It's an oil producing region. And what we've seen in recent months already was an increase in global oil prices because of decisions taken by suppliers and the conflict in the Middle East risks making that worse, and that would have consequences for Australians at the petrol bowser. More important than that is the human consequences of what we're seeing in the Middle East. We understand that communities right around Australia, including this one, are incredibly upset and under extreme pressure from what's happening in the Middle East. Different parts of Australia have got different mixes of faith and cultural heritage and so it plays out differently in different parts of Australia – we recognise that. Our view is that we should mourn the loss of innocent life, whether it's Palestinian life or an Israeli life. Now we are talking here about the victims of the barbaric terrorism of Hamas. We don't want to see unnecessarily the ordinary folk of Palestine, including the kids of Palestine, be the victims to the terrorism of Hamas. This is the view that the Prime Minister and some of my ministerial colleagues have been putting forward. A human life on one side of a wall is not worth any more or any less than an innocent human life on the other side of the wall. Our comments in recent days have reflected that.